Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Crossing the Thin Red Line

Crossing the Thin Red Line

I admire the World War II movie The Thin Red Line directed by Terence Malick, which I watched for the first at the Junction 8 cineplex in Bishan, Singapore, couple of years back. The movie is interesting on many levels. First of all, Terence Malick is a highly acclaimed director whose previous works like Days of Heaven and Badlands won him many awards. He has also not done that many movies in his career; so every movie that he directs is of noted quality. The Thin Red Line was nominated for seven Oscars, including Best Picture in 1999.

The movie attracted interest too because there were so many big names who took up very small cameo-like roles in it-- names like John Travolta, George Clooney, Sean Penn, Ben Chaplin and John Cusack. Some viewers will feel even a bit cheated to find George Clooney appearing very briefly only in the last 5 minutes of the movie. At least he did better than Mickey Rourke, who played a part that was completely edited out from the final version!

The cinematography (by John Toll) of Thin Red Line is quite breath-taking and the soundtrack (Hans Zimmer), evocatively haunting. It is not the type of war movie that sucks you realistically into the action like Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, but one that induces a meditative state of mind in the audience (well, a bit like 2001: A Space Odyssey, one could say). It is not a movie that's arty and boring either because the battle scenes are quite engrossing and very well-crafted.

The director indulges in some very poetic reflection about the relationship between Man and Nature, on the inevitability and futility of war and the hopes and fears of soldiers in battle, through voiceover narrations and flashbacks.

With the battles taking place on the beautiful Pacific island of Guadacanal, we are treated to images of the hellish horrors of war set side-by-side with paradisiacal vistas of pristine jungles and beaches.

We are forced to ask ourselves the question: Which is the true nature of Man? Is it the primitive but peaceful lives of the native Melanesians or the brutality of the soldiers who suddenly encroach on their world with heavy guns and ships to slaughter each other like animals? Or perhaps our wars are just natural consequences of the Darwinian struggle for survival that is perpetually being played out in nature?

"Look at this jungle. Look at those vines, the way they twine around, swallowing everything. Nature's cruel...", comments the ruthless Colonel Gordon Tall, played by Nick Nolte.

I'm suddenly writing about this movie today because I have been thinking about the movie's key character, Private Witt, played by Jim Caviezel. Witt is a soldier who risks court-martial for going AWOL to live happily among the natives on the island. Though a reluctant soldier, in the end, he still fought valiantly until his dying breath.

I feel like I've gone AWOL in Jakarta these past two years. There's still unfinished work to be done. Now I have to cross that Thin Red Line again.

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